I've been in a relationship for three years. We moved in together after I got pregnant, and our son is now 2 months old. I've never been unfaithful. He cheated early on. He said he wants a paternity test. I'm positive that our son is his, and I'm offended that he would question if he is the father. WWBD? —Anonymous
I get why you're offended. His asking for a paternity test implies that he has some doubts about being the father and that you may have been having sex with someone else—and, worse, doing so unprotected. In so many words, he's saying that he doesn't really trust you. Because you've mentioned his infidelity all these years later, I'm guessing that it's still a sore spot for you, despite the fact that you stayed with him. You've got to be thinking, "Hold up. You cheated and I didn't leave, and then you come through with this?!"
I'm sure you're angry. You have a right to be. And I'm sure that he knew you would be, but he asked anyway. I get why he did. Stories abound about men who believed a child to be theirs biologically, only to discover later that the child was not, sometimes after years of paying child support. This is a great fear of many men, and although it's exploited for amusement on talk shows like Maury, it's not entirely unfounded.
Some years ago, The Atlantic ran a story by Steve Olson on "nonpaternity events," the geneticist's term for a guy who may be a father, but not biologically.
"[Geneticists] rarely publish their findings, but the numbers are common knowledge within the genetics community,” Olson wrote. "In graduate school, genetics students typically are taught that 5 to 15 percent of the men on birth certificates are not the biological fathers of their children. In other words, as many as one of every seven men who proudly carry their newborn children out of a hospital could be a cuckold." A later New York Times story on paternity testing included a statistic that said 30 percent of men who question whether they are the father are actually right to question.
So yeah, it's not entirely unheard of for some women to lie or be mistaken about the paternity of their child. I get why an unmarried man, even one who actually trusts his partner, would ask for a test in order to be doubly sure for his own peace of mind.
Here's another rub: In some cases, even when the man discovers that the child isn't biologically his, after years of paying support, not only doesn't he get a refund for the money spent on someone else's biological child, but he is also mandated to continue paying. In other cases, men have been forced to pay just because their partner put their name on the birth certificate, even though DNA proved that the child wasn't theirs.
Beyond finances, it's also emotionally devastating to find out that a child you thought was "yours," biologically speaking, is not.
A few months ago, a guy wrote in to Ask Belle with a similar story. His longtime live-in girlfriend and mother of his child had broken up with him. To spite her, he asked for a paternity test for their son, specifically to make her feel the way you do right now. Well, he took the kid to get tested and discovered that his 4-year-old was not biologically his. "The mother has to back pay me yet that doesn't make me feel any better," he wrote. "I know men aren't supposed to cry, but everything is hurting even my toenails."
Idris Elba expressed a similar sentiment in GQ about his discovery that his son was not biologically his: "The celebration of having a son, from a man's perspective, it's massive," he told the magazine. "To be given that and then have it taken away so harshly was like taking a full-on punch in the face: POW.”
Not that your partner actually needs your consent to have the child tested, but agree to it anyway as a formality so that this doesn't become a bigger issue. What you don't want is a man shirking his responsibilities as a father (or mistreating the child) because he questions whether the child is his.
Once your partner's paternity is established, have a serious conversation about the lingering (or ongoing) trust issues in your relationship. Also consider family counseling to address the lingering resentment you have about his infidelity and, possibly, your resentment about his concern over paternity and his mistrust of you. Even if this relationship fizzles out, both of you need to be trusting enough and tolerant of each other to properly co-parent the child you share.
Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously in Ask Demetria: “I Got My Girl Pregnant and Now She Wants Me to Tell Her Dad”